The Man Who Could Have Been Pope: ‘The Church is 200 Years Out of Date’

Socially liberal Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini could have been Pope (he was passed over for Joseph Ratzinger). He died a couple of days ago and his final interview was a well-deserved condemnation of Catholic Church practices:

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous”…

“The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,” he said in the interview. “The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.”

Cardinal Martini, famous for comments that the use of condoms could be acceptable in some cases, told interviewers the church should open up to new kinds of families or risk losing its flock.

“A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children.” he said. “A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off, but also her children.”

“The church is 200 years out of date,” he said. “Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?”

For what it’s worth, he said many of these things during the course of his life, too. But the Church didn’t seem to take his views very seriously. Too bad they just lost one of their better voices.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Alexander Ryan

    “But the Church didn’t seem to take his views very seriously.” Well, if they won’t listen to reason, they probably won’t listen to reason even if the reason comes from their own side.

  • 3lemenope

    I’m pretty sure that John XXIII and Vatican II scared the hierarchy straight back into the Middle Ages. They really, really, really don’t want a repeat of that, and Ratzinger was the obvious stop gap reactionary choice. 

  • advancedatheist

    I’ve wondered what would happen if the leaders in the Catholic Church stopped wearing their Renaissance Faire costumes and started wearing business suits like politicians or corporate executives. 

  • Artor

    So there are semi-reasonable voices in the Catholic hierarchy…and they’re ignored in favor of guys like Pope Palpatine. More evidence that the institution is deliberately evil. Who could have guessed?

  • C Peterson

    Then instead of being evil men wearing silly clothes, they’d be evil men wearing suits. I haven’t noticed that wearing suits has done much for the ethics of many politicians and corporate executives.

  • Octoberfurst

     Wow I had never heard of this guy before. It’s hard to believe that there are  some sane voices in the Vatican.  Too bad he wasn’t made Pope. He could have done a lot of good. He could have brought the Church into the 20th century. (Bringing it into the 21st would be asking too much.) But now he is dead and the chance for reform has passed—at least for now.  Although I can see why the Vatican picked Ratzinger. The Vatican hates change so what better to do than put an old reactionary in charge?  

  • Glasofruix

    Only 200 years? I’d say a whole millenia at least…

  • Coyotenose

     The only major change that would come as a result of the priesthood dressing like executives would be that the Republicans would line up down the street to metaphorically and not-so-metaphorically fellate them.

  • Curt Hall

    Another point to make is that his motivation is not the pursuit of truth or what is right, but rather how to prevent the church from being “big and empty” or “loosing its flock.” 
    Again, the church morphs to a changing culture, willing to update ‘timeless’ dogma, to save its neck.

  • Daniel

    This could very well be WHY he didn’t get to be pope.

  • PJB863

    Hell, bringing it into the 18th century would be a good start.

  • AntonioPeYangIII

    And over here in the Philippines, when the RCC demanded that Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), a Jesuit-run school, impose sanctions on 192 of its professors who declared their support  the reproductive health bill – which the church opposes – the SJ director in charge of the school said something in the lines of “They’re our professors, and while we disagree with them on matters of Catholic doctrine, we ENCOURAGE them to pursue their support of the bill, and to research further on the matter. Now go the fuck away.”

    And when the RCC tried to put pressure on the Ateneo Law School, the dean, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, basically stated that as a university, the institution he ran was equally obligated in protecting its students and teacher’s academic freedom – in all of its diversity – regardless if it identified as a Catholic school.

    Martini will be missed.

  • Matt E

    The Catholic Church – determined to ignore reason, even when dressed up in a silly hat and robe.

  • Paul Paulus

    The job of the church is not to be sensible and compassionate.

    It’s there to make money.

  • Octoberfurst


  • Verimius

    Why should you want the Catholic Church to reform? Sounds like you want to see it survive and thrive. I’d just as soon see it stick to its ossified ways and die of its own accord.

  • Kyle Anderson

    Well, maybe if you took a little time to learn about the organization you hate so much you would be more knowledgeable about it and wouldn’t have to ask “Who could have guessed?”

    But since it is easier to hate something without learning about it, that’s where many of the posters I see on this blog are.

  • Kyle Anderson

    The Church has nothing on the obscene wealth of the rich capitalists of the world…

  • Artor

    Maybe you could get your condescending head out of your ass and think that maybe I do know something about the Catholic Church, having attended as a kid and gone through several years of Catholic schooling. It’s a safe bet that the atheists on this site and others probably know more about the Catholic church than most Catholics. It’s a big reason why most of us are atheists.

  • A Reader

    Because if people are going to believe in a god and practice organized religion, I want them to be open-minded enough to accept those who don’t believe/live as they do. And I think that we should do the same. My main problem with religion (other than the fact that it’s BS) is its tendency to be intolerant. Admittedly I don’t know much about this guy, but I don’t think I’d have had many problems with him, and I wish more Christians thought like he did.

  • Indorri

    I don’t think your assertion that we are ignorant of the culture of the RCC holds much water.

  • WildRumpus67

    It’s easier to hate Catholicism by learning about it.

    My wife’s whole family is Catholic and I know more about the Bible, Christian history, Catholic history, and the Catholic hierarchy than any of them. Even the ones in Opus Dei (who are super smart and totally enjoyable to debate with).

    You would be surprised how many of us here are ex-Catholocs who left the church because we actually started studying Catholicism.

  • RobertoTheChi

    Many atheists were once theists (many were catholics) and know a lot about this “organization” and that is why we find it so destructive (especially to women).

  • Sindigo

    I’m sure that’s exactly the attitude that Jesus would have wanted you to have regarding the CC’s obscene wealth.

  • JoFro

    If you Sir went through several years of Catholic schooling, then you, especially you, definitely have absolutely no idea what the Church teaches – Catholic schools have not been teaching Catholicism for the last 40 yrs pretty much

  • JoFro

    Im not sure what you atheists want – with the current pope, the Church will die – this should make you happy.

    If the dude who died had become Pope, the Church would likely get more people and continue to thrive, which would not be good news for you guys – but of course, ure problem with the Catholic Church was never really about condoms or divorce now, was it?

    The Church can approve all of those things and look no different to the local Episcopal Church or it could even sell all its churches, give all the wealth to the poor and it still would not be enough for atheists because in the end it is about belieiving in what it teaches about God, which incidently is something you guys don’t believe in.

    The only way for the Church to gain respect in your eyes would be for the Church to say it has been lying all along, Jesus never died (or never existed, depending on what kind of atheist u are) and close shop.

  • Artor

    Wow- the dumbasses are coming out of the woodwork. I’m in my middle 40′s. I went to Catholic school 40 yrs ago, so there goes your argument. Do you have substantive points to make, or are you just full of shit? Rather than attacking straw men…and losing, do you have any real defense of the church and it’s actions? I don’t think so, because they are indefensible. Priests raping children is wrong. Priests protecting pedophiles is wrong. The church refusing to accept this point is wrong; period, full stop. Are you denying that this is a problem that the church has failed to take appropriate action on? Really?

  • MJS

    Ever notice how Episcopal Churches or the United Church of Christ are never really criticized by atheists? That’s because they a) don’t believe in a ridiculous literal interpretation of the Bible like the fundamentalists do, b) don’t believe in guilt-inducing proselytizing  like the evangelicals do, and c) don’t believe in denying gays equal rights and women access to reproductive health like the Catholics do.

    I imagine most of us here on The Friendly Atheist have no problem with other people having belief in God.

    It’s when your belief in God starts affecting us or starts hurting people (like those molested by your priests) that is the problem.

  • Artor

    I apologize to anyone offended by my salty language here. My original comment was intended to be polite, but having Xtian apologists try to put words in my mouth and making grand (and erroneous) assumptions about my education & experiences is pretty damned offensive to me, so I replied in kind. Nevertheless, I think my characterizations of them as condescending dumbasses is accurate.

  • jose

    Over at Unequally Yoked I try to find objective moral values that come from catholicism because they were revealed as true by God. That seems to clash a bit with the idea that catholicism can be morally wrong about stuff. Did God not reveal some of the values just for kicks?

  • Anna

    While I admit it would be nice if people stopped believing in the supernatural, that’s incredibly unlikely to happen in the near future. If people can’t give up their gods, I would rather see them embrace liberal, inclusive churches simply because those churches are a lot less harmful both to their members and to the rest of society. The Catholic church is a huge organization promoting some terrible things at the present time. If they could ditch some of their more poisonous beliefs, I think we’d all be a lot better off.

  • Bo Tait

    Haha, well let’s see. 

    Gays are intrinsically disordered.
    Because Jesus had a penis, only those with a penis may be a priest.
    Women who are abused by their husbands do not necessarily have a good argument for an annulment. 

    Yeah, Catholicism is on a roll here. 

  • HughInAz

    “Only those with a penis may be a priest.”

    Only Jewish fishermen may be a priest.

    And in response to the inevitable chorus of “you hate catholicism because you know nothing about it”, I was raised in a strict Irish catholic family, and the priests were constantly lecturing me that only men could be priests because the apostles were men. Taking this “reasoning” to its logical conclusion, as above, never seemed to occur to them.

  • HughInAz

    Have you ever seen pictures of the Vatican? “Obscene wealth” is an understatement.

  • HughInAz

    I’d settle for the 21st century BC.

  • HughInAz

    Careful, you’ll have ibis3 calling you a sexist asshole!

  • C Peterson

    Did God not reveal some of the values just for kicks?


  • Artor

    Following instructions like that is an excellent way for a University to lose it’s accreditation. Good job Dean & Director.

  • Jhngu

    Lol. You angry!

  • Jhngu

    You’d be surprised how common this argument is posited ( I know Catholicism, I went to catholic school, etc) but underneath it all is a fundamental MISunderstanding.

    Many people hate what they THINK this church is, many many fewer hate the church in actuality. God bless you.

  • The Other Weirdo

     What he said!

  • NickDB

     Oh get stuffed

    So what is this fundamental MISunderstanding that you bandy about but make no effort to discuss or correct if we have it?

    Reason why you don’t do that is you KNOW you’ll have your arse handed to you.

    Just from my side;

    Baptized Catholic
    Went to Catholic school
    Was an Altar boy for years
    Did the readings for mass
    Can still repeat the catholic mass verbatim
    Confirmed Catholic

    With all of that and even without going to a church for years the Catholic church still considers me Catholic, so if they consider me one, who the hell are you to say I’m not.